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Upstairs, Downstairs

By Tara Chance

One of the best-loved and most-acclaimed programs of all time and beloved by audiences in more than 70 countries, Upstairs Downstairs is the enchanting saga of the aristocratic Bellamy family (upstairs) and their loyal and lively servants (downstairs). This seminal British television series is just as enjoyable now as when it first aired in the early 1970s.


Series 3

Richard, Lady Marjorie, and their son James comprise the aristocratic Bellamy family that reside upstairs while their loyal servants maintain the household from downstairs. The series follows the upper-class family's troubles as times change and the ongoing lives of their resilient staff. Clean, clear, and presented in order, the third season's 13 episodes follow the London household through the prewar years (1912-1914).

In these episodes, Hudson (Gordon Jackson) gives notice over James's (Simon Williams) luncheon with his father's typist, Miss Forrest (Meg Wynn Owen), who helps run the household after Lady Marjorie dies aboard the R.M.S. Titanic. Tensions again erupt when another family strives to hire Hudson away and Miss Forrest refuses James's marriage proposal, afraid of a past secret. Former servant Alfred reappears, taking a hostage when Hudson discovers he is wanted for murder, and a French countess is romantically interested in Richard's money until James exposes the truth. James's new wife, Hazel Forrest, resolves a stock-trading scandal, but remains uneasy with her new society position, particularly while fox hunting at Lord and Lady Newbury's country estate. A disregard for class differences nearly ends in disaster during Georgina Worsley's (Lesley-Anne Down) holiday visit, and a casual remark by the Bellamys' footman Edward erupts into a scandal that threatens Parliament's Tory constituency. Rose (Jean Marsh) almost marries an Australian sheep farmer, and James's rocky marriage must survive Hazel's miscarriage. In July 1914, when war looms, James looks to rejoin his regiment to escape his troubled marriage; Mrs. Bridges (Angela Baddeley) has a suitor and two servants, Edward and Daisy, defy the downstairs' rules by falling in love.

Series 4

Richard, his son James, and James's wife, Hazel, comprise the aristocratic Bellamy family that resides upstairs while their loyal servants maintain the London household from downstairs. These episodes, set in 1914 to 1918, during the Great War, follow the upper class family's troubles in changing times and the ongoing lives of their resilient staff. The fourth season is more soapy than the previous ones and is best viewed in order. Outstanding cast performances and the dramatic backdrop of the war give this season its reputation as the best of the five.

Due to limited filming budgets, the war is largely seen through home-front activities. While James and Edward serve on the frontlines, the rest of the family participates in the war effort as best they can, busy with tea parties for wounded officers, charity shows, and attempts to shelter refugees. Surprising everyone, Ruby even leaves to build munitions, only to return after an explosion at the factory. Marriages and tragedies ensue, affecting both upstairs and downstairs at 165 Eaton Place. As the Great War concludes, and things begin to settle down, England celebrates the Armistice and the Bellamy family contemplates the end of an era and the changes to come.

Series 5

Richard, his new wife Virginia, and recently widowed son James comprise the aristocratic Bellamy family who resides upstairs while their loyal servants maintain the London household from downstairs. These final 16 episodes cover the swinging '20s to the stock market crash (1919-30). The episodes of the fifth season are more self-contained than other seasons' and every bit as entertaining.

The household mood reflects the events of the day--jubilation at the armistice, a fancy-dress party amidst the gaiety of the early '20s, divided allegiances during the general strike of 1926, the fever of stock market wealth, and overnight ruin in October 1929. James, with too much time and money on his hands, is single again and up to his usual antics. Nor is life dull for the other members of the household--Hudson almost resigns his position after he's caught holding hands with Lily, the housemaid, and Georgina winds up in court after she hits and kills a man while taking a group of irresponsible socialites to Sussex in the Bellamys' Rolls. While James and Richard focus their political activities outside the home, Edward and Frederick vie to see who will fill in for Hudson while he recuperates from his heart attack. Finally, after the market crash and James's subsequent death, the family is forced to sell 165 Eaton Place to pay off his creditors. The series ends with Rose locking up the empty house, closing the door on one of TV's most popular and acclaimed shows. Whether you first met the Bellamys and their delightfully enjoyable downstairs entourage in the 1970s or are just getting to know them now, the superb acting and compelling character development will always be the real reason to watch Upstairs Downstairs.


Share Your Memories In Our Forums!

Check out our Upstairs, Downstairs forum! Do you have a favorite episode of the show? What do you remember about the series? Do you have any questions about it or its stars? Now you can post comments and questions directly to our TV forums! Click here to see what other Upstairs, Downstairs viewers have said or to post your own comments about the show!

Your Memories Shared!

Where else can one find every element of a classic romance novel and learn so much about early 20th century European history at the same time. Upstairs Downstairs gave us a chance to experience the pomp and circumstance of old England, the horror of World War I, the excitement of twenties, the devastation of the Stock Market Crash and and other events through the eyes of dwindling high society and ever evolving group who served them.


Note: This is just a random sample of the Upstairs, Downstairs messages in our TV forums! Click here to see what others have said or to post your own comments!



Aired: 1971-1975

Cast: Gordon Jackson (Hudson), David Langton (Richard Bellamy), Jean Marsh (Rose), Angela Baddeley (Mrs. Bridges), Pauline Collins (Sarah), Christopher Beeny (Edward), Jenny Tomasin (Ruby)

Network: LWT (London Weekend Television), PBS

Genre: Drama

Theme song

Image courtesy of LWT

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